Film / The Last Temptation of Christ

This is the 1988 film by Martin Scorsese, based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis. Starring Willem Dafoe as Jesus, what follows is a fairly loose reinterpretation of the Biblical story of Jesus' life and Crucifixion (sorry, the film's long enough without him coming back).

As stated earlier, the film/novel depart substantially from the Bible's account of Jesus' life. First to come to mind is that Jesus, while still capable of miracle working, is a deeply flawed human being, with the same weaknesses and vulnerabilities as everyone else. Secondly, Judas isn't that bad of a guy. Instead of outright betraying Jesus, he's practically forced into it by the man himself.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Jesus is given this compared to the gospels. Though as Paul Schrader and Scorsese points out there is Unbuilt Trope most notably when Jesus wonders why had God forsaken him.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Judas gets this as per the revisionist accounts of 20th Century theology.
  • Affably Evil: The way Pontius Pilate is depicted.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: The story provides one to the Bible, in tandem with ExternalRetCons.
  • Anti-Hero: Jesus being this in the movie is basically what's so controversial about it, in a nutshell.
  • Apologetic Attacker: Pontius Pilate doesn't regret Jesus' crucifixion but he does take pity on the man and his cause, which he sees as a Hopeless War.
  • Beat Still, My Heart: Yeah, it's kinda crazy.
  • Bible Times: A deconstruction, it shows the time to be really poor, with a lot of violence and a great many religious mystics, in addition to the Zealots.
  • Big Bad: Satan, represented here first as a snake, then a lion, later as the angelic little girl and finally a pillar of Hellfire
  • Break Them by Talking: Mature, un-crucified Jesus confronts Paul over his preaching, and is shut down right quick:
    Paul: You see, you don't know how much people need God. You don't know how happy He can make them. He can make them happy to do anything. Make them happy to die, and they'll die, all for the sake of Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus of Nazareth. The Son of God. The Messiah. Not you. Not for your sake. [beat] You know, I'm glad I met you. Because now I can forget all about you. My Jesus is much more important and much more powerful.
    • Then again, that speech occurs during the titular Last Temptation.
  • Came Back Wrong: Lazarus, if to a less severe extent than usual for this trope.
  • Celibate Hero: Subverted. Then double subverted.
  • The Chosen One: The original.
  • Creepy Child: The guardian angel. Don't worry, it's only Satan.
  • Deconstruction: A highly intellectually driven look at not only the life of Jesus but the way's he's depicted in art and movies. And averting Christianity Is Catholic with its source novel written by a Greek Orthodox and co-screenwriter Paul Schrader being a Dutch Calvinist(with a PhD in theology), joining Scorsese as the Catholic.
    • One thing which Scorsese pointed out in interviews and the book Scorsese On Scorsese is that the Crucifixion has been Entertainingly Wrong all through history, with the nails driven through the palms which in fact would not have hinged the body on the cross. Scorsese cited the latest archaeological research as grounds to put the nails through Christ's wrists, just as the Romans did it.
    • The musical score by Peter Gabriel, a Genre-Busting effort that was an attempt to create music similar to what could have been played in Israel of that time, with some Anachronism Stew thrown in for good measure, generally taking Jesus from the European High Culture trappings of Classical religious music which developed centuries later and in a land and continent and culture far removed from First Century Israel.
    • Scorsese also deconstructs Jesus Was Way Cool, pointing out that if Jesus was so charismatic then there wouldn't have been such hatred or controversy provoked by him in the first place.note  He shows Jesus as a King of the Homeless attracting lepers, prostitutes and other outcasts who the establishment would regard as weirdos with Willem Dafoe's Jesus getting Adaptational Angst Upgrade rather than a Messianic Archetype we see. The movie also deconstructs Christian attitudes to sexuality, by foregrounding the conflict between "Fully Human and Fully Divine". Also The Last Temptation is the first work in Western Art to depict women with Jesus at The Last Supper.
    • The movie in general takes the opposite stand to the Hollywood Epic Movie giving Jesus a Film Noir narration, using a variety of American accents (because as pointed out in the quote below, they were no less realistic than the BBC or the old English of the King James Bible used in earlier adaptations) and in showing Jerusalem and the Bible Lands as the dirty, oppressed Wretched Hive that it was under Roman occupation and also suggested in the Bible itself, and showing the poor who gravitated to Jesus with as little glamour or affect as possible.
    • Biblical scholar Robert M. Price made the argument that the film deconstructs the apologetic argument known as the Lewis trilemma according to which Jesus was either a cynical con man, a complete madman or the messiah.
    The Last Temptation is certainly the most orthodox christian movie about Jesus ever made. [...] The Liar, Lord, or Lunatic argument that [christian apologists] use is, I think, deeply flawed because it implies Jesus wasn't a genuine human being because the idea that he was God - whether he was or not - would have driven him insane. Right ? And that's exactly what happens in the the Last Temptation ; no other movie ever took that seriously.
  • Decon-Recon Switch: Ultimately, as unusual as the film is as a dramatization of Jesus, the film is still highly respectful and as one reviewer noted, "the work of a believer". Scorsese said that the reason he made all these changes was because he wanted to take Jesus away from the pious and safe traditional iconography and make it relevant to a modern audience, since Jesus' ideas and messages are still radical and important to the world, and he wanted to place it in a more alien and unfamiliar context so that people would understand it fresh without the preconceptions and pomp and piety.
  • Devil in Disguise: The "angel" who appears to Jesus upon the cross.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Mary Magdalene usually wears decorated barefoot sandals. Also, the guardian angel is over things like footwear, in her case entering Magical Barefoot field.
  • Don't Make Me Destroy You: Pontius Pilate criticizes the Jewish rebels for resisting the Roman order and forcing harsh repression against the population. He tells Jesus that he considers pacifists like him to be just as bad. He tells Jesus that he will be crucified at Golgotha which has "3000 skulls" and tells him that he wishes he and other residents of Jerusalem counted those skulls before Romans have to add more to that tally.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Jesus rejects Satan's illusion, is immediately brought back to the cross, where he cries out "It is accomplished!" in utter triumph, having fulfilled his Father's plan.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Quite literally with the guardian angel.
  • The Film of the Book: No, not that book. It's actually an adaptation of a book by the same name.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Duh.
  • Foreshadowing: The first scene in the movie is Jesus making a cross, carrying it, then watching someone get crucified.
  • Futureshadowing: Jesus' final temptation has glimpsing Saint Paul proselytizing Christianity and twisting his beliefs for personal ends. He also glimpses the sack of Jerusalem, the end of Jewish independence and the birth of the diaspora.
  • God Is Flawed: Played with. The point of the novel is to examine Christ as both entirely God and entirely Human. He is shown as being subjected to many of fears and temptations that humans have. Satan tempts him with Power, Authority and Rule which Jesus rejects, but the final temptation, and the hardest to resist, is Jesus being a normal man, married to the woman he loves and having children and a family. He ultimately rejects even this and becomes the Christ of The Bible, gladly accepting his Father's plan.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Jesus after the final temptation: "It is accomplished!"
  • Guardian Angel: During the last part of the story, Jesus is accompanied by an otherworldy girl who claims to be her guardian angel. However, she is actually Satan.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Jesus's guardian angel has the form of a gold-haired girl. Subverted when it is revealed that she is Satan in disguise trying to tempt Jesus.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Pontius Pilate tries to give this to Jesus, Satan gives it all the time, and even Saint Paul steps in.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Jesus and Judas are best friends and are practically inseparable. In this story, Jesus orders Judas to betray him to the Roman authorities, which Judas does not wish to do.
  • Hopeless War: How Pontius Pilate sees the Jewish Revolts, he chides Jesus and the zealots, seeing them both as part of the same coin, for forcing harsh Roman reprisals against their people.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Jesus' greatest desire and the last temptation.
  • It Sucks to Be the Chosen One: It really does. The woman you love and would have married becomes a prostitute and finally, God's plan doesn't involve you becoming the Icon of Rebellion to topple the Roman occupation. No, God's plan is for you to sacrifice yourself so that you can become an Inspirational Martyr that ensures your cause becomes truly immortal.
  • Inner Monologue: Jesus does this quite a bit.
  • Jesus Was Crazy: The film begins with Jesus portrayed as a paranoid schizophrenic who starts preaching because he hears voices in his head. Jesus is first shown working as a carpenter building crosses for the Romans and rambling on about how he wants to crucify all the messiahs. The story goes through many plot-twists, and the psychiatric perspective grows obsolete after a while - but Jesus being crazy in one way or another remains the only constant throughout the movie. And trying to live a decent life turns out to be the craziest thing of them all.
  • Large Ham: Paul. Just listen to his rantings and try not to laugh.
  • The Last Title: The title.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: All of the actors, but Harvey Keitel got the most crap for it. This was a deliberate artistic decision by Scorsese who wanted to subvert the usual cliches of the Epic Movie.
    "I mean, basically, they say, okay, this is a defense, in a way. We don't have to get too emotionally involved because this happened a long time ago and people spoke funny. We said no, this man talks like you, talks like me, some guy has a Brooklyn accent, another guy has a Canadian accent... where does it say that everybody in ancient Judea spoke by listening to the BBC?"
    • Scorsese stated that at one point he even considered doing the film in Aramaic much like Mel Gibson did later but that he ultimately refused because he wanted his film to be seen by a general audience rather than academics and intellectuals. The other reason was that Aramaic was a dead language with all pronunciations lost to time and it wouldn't help the actors one bit.
  • Oh, Crap!: JESUS has one, when he resurrects Lazarus. Not even HE thought he'd be able to do it, and when he does, his quiet little "God Help Me" shows just how overwhelmed he is by his own power.
  • Our Angels Are Different: Because they aren't angels at all.
  • The Queen's Latin: Subverted, except for David Bowie as Pontius Pilate, but then he is Roman.
  • Refusal of the Call: Jesus all the time, as a result of the view that he was "fully human fully divine" and also to make him a Tragic Hero.
  • Shades of Conflict: Jesus and Satan are, respectively, purely good and purely evil; everyone else, including the Apostles, the Sanhedrin, and Pontius Pliate are various shades of gray.
  • Shout-Out: The depiction of Satan as a shapeshifting little girl owes greatly to Luis Buñuel's Simon of the Desert and Federico Fellini's Toby Dammitt.
  • Stylistic Suck: The stilted and rambling preaching of Paul of Tarsus. According to historical accounts, Saul/Paul was very bad at public speaking, which is why he's most remembered for his letters. According to Paul Schrader, Harry Dean Stanton was modelling his performance on televangelists.
  • Temporal Paradox: Averted. The alternate future Jesus is shown still depicts Paul preaching the resurrection of Jesus and thus ensuring the proliferation of Christianity with or without Jesus' help.
    • But this version of Christianity is shown to be utterly false and hypocritical, consistent with theBible itself. See Fridge Brilliance under YMMV.
  • Truth in Television: For all the controversy surrounding the movie, one definite accurate aspect is that Dafoe's physical appearance as Jesus is actually far closer than the more traditional Western depiction. note  Though Scorsese notes that its still traditional in that Jesus is a still a blond white male when he was in fact a Middle Eastern Jew.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The guardian angel is always by Jesus's side in his new, normal life, but although she is noticed by other characters and interacts with them, they never acknowledge the oddity in a girl who never grows nor ages through the years. It gets justified at the end when it's revealed that said life is an illusion created by her, who is Satan.
  • Voice of the Legion: Naturally, by Legion's boss, who gets to speak in quite a few voices throughout the film in addition to having this special effect.
  • Windmill Crusader: Jesus is portrayed as the insane kind of Windmill Crusader. This is played straight for most of the movie; he even gets cured of his messiah complex and gets to live a normal life.
    • In the Twist Ending, however, Judas accuses Jesus of betraying him by not going through with dying on the cross as they had previously agreed. Jesus’ guardian angel is then revealed to be the devil, who had tricked him into believing that he’s not the messiah. Thus, it turns out that it was No Mere Windmill after all.
    • In the same movie, Saul is briefly portrayed as the misguided kind of Windmill Crusader. However, he is quickly shown as a Straw Hypocrite who simply doesn’t care if the gospel he preaches is true or not. Of course, this Saul is part of the vision shown by the Devil as part of the titular temptation, so YMMV.
  • Windmill Political: Saul, see Windmill Crusader above.